HOW OLD ARE YOU -- REALLY?

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The Soul passes from form to form; and the mansions of her pilgrimage are manifold.
Thou art old, O Soul of Man; yea, thou art from everlasting. 

                                                             Book of Hermes

Every soul… comes into this world strengthened by the
victories or weakened by the defeats of its previous life.
                                                                 
                                                                   Origen (De Principiis)
                                                                   

Live so that thou mayest desire to live again –
that is thy duty for in any case thou wilt live again.
                                                        
                                                                  Friedrich Nietzsche

 

From my experience, it seems to be that most people in our Western civilization don't believe that our souls reincarnate. Although far more are now open to its possibility than a couple of generations ago, still the belief is often perceived as a quaint Eastern misconception that has been adapted by various offbeat outliers in the West.

But what is the history of this belief and why has a large part of the world's population affirmed its reality, while so many in the Western cultures remain closed to the possibility of having lived here before. For thousands of years, Eastern traditions such as Buddhism and Hinduism have espoused it. Even certain Middle East religions, including Islamic Sufism and Hesiodic Jewry, teach that souls reincarnate,

So why not in the West; what do we know that they don't? Or what do they know that we don't. Certainly, for the materialist, atheist, agnostic, where the notion of us being a soul is rejected, there is no possibility for such a belief. Once your body is dead, you're dead, and so there's nothing that survives to live on after. As the West became increasingly secularized over the last few centuries, belief in the spirit/soul waned in place of scientific materialism, naturalism and humanism. 

But that doesn't explain why most Christian religions have continued to remain opposed to the concept of reincarnation. When we look into history, however, we see things didn't necessarily start that way the first few centuries. We'll take a look at that in the dialogue below.   

In spite of the past, there has been much recent interest expressed in the topic of prior lives. Interestingly, even in The Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations, there seems to be much greater tolerance towards those who are open to the possibility of reincarnation, even among their own adherents. (BTW, I'm currently researching for reliable statistics on these at attitudes and trends found in various Christian churches in North America as well as the general public).

Personally, I wasn't too interested in the topic until I became aware of the research that had been done among young children who had astonishing graphic memories of their prior lives. It was the investigative work of Dr Ian Stevenson (1918-2007) and Dr Jim Tucker, both Professors of Psychiatry and Neuroscience Behavior at the University of Virginia, that caused me to take the topic seriously.

Over several decades years the department studied reports of several hundred children throughout the world who recounted their prior life experiences. Particularly interesting were reports of the children being in relationship with others they could never have known, often no where near to where they were born. These studies employed the highest standards of scientific research to confirm the details. One of the books on this topic is, Children Who Remember Past Lives, by Dr Stevenson.

Recently a best selling book was released called The Boy Who Knew Too Much, written by Cathy Byrd, an evangelical Christian in the USA who had to deal with her two year old son telling her he was Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees from almost a century ago. Even though she didn’t believe in reincarnation at the time, the boy would shock her, citing facts that he could never have known at that age, including his stormy relationship with Babe Ruth. It's a fascinating read that I highly recommend. 

In fact, it was Dr Tucker from the University of Virginia that came to their home to interview the young boy that his story may be documented for ongoing research into the study of reincarnation.

For our purposes, perhaps the best way to examine the controversy surrounding the reincarnation and preexistence of our souls is to consider an excerpt I've written in Book Two of Elysium's Passage: Surreal Adventures, (which I'm now editing for future publication).

N.G. Meyers

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The dialogue below involves the protagonist James, who is the first person narrator, and his two companions, Mo and Eli.

'From what I’ve seen, I said, 'the world is often a rather difficult for almost everyone at one time or another, which makes you wonder if humanity has some inherent masochistic tendency to keep returning to this sorry state of existence.'

‘And yet, Eli said, we only return because we come to realize there’s a good reason for doing so. If something more is to be gained in developing the quality of our souls, then why not? It’s a free will universe.’

‘But that makes it sound like the world’s one huge cosmic boot camp,’ I said. ‘A lifetime on earth seems a rather long time to be in training, especially when you consider how badly we often fair in the end.’

‘I wouldn’t say a long time… not really,’ he said, ‘from our perspective it’s just a flash in the pan.’

‘Understand, there’s an important incentive to keep returning, Mo said. ‘When it becomes known what splendors are be available, then all in Elysium wish to advance towards realizing more of the divine essence of their being. We come to realize it’s only our limitations that preclude us from experiencing the splendors that are ours to experience.

‘Of course,’ Eli said, ‘there’s also the risk that the time spend on earth may be counter-productive to one’s progress should they prefer to align their soul with the dark affections of the world’s illusions. To this extent the light is shut out, they identify with darkness and it becomes their illusory self, but never in their divine essence. It can never be darkened, only hidden and forgotten in slumber. One of my favourite philosophers, G.I Gurdjieff[1] stated in his typical enigmatic wit and wisdom, A man may be born, but in order to be born he must first die, and in order to die he must first awake.

‘However you may wish to interpret that, it would be wise if everyone would ask themselves if they are contracting or expanding their soul’s capacity to assimilate whatever treasures they wish from Elysium’s store of infinite possibilities. Whether they remember if or not, that’s why they came to earth, or whatever other material world they dwelt. Still, in the Infiniverse, there are no mistakes; only lessons learned.’

'And so,' Mo said, 'it’s obvious that all lifetimes on earth have value, no matter how long or short they may be, here is no real failure. As Eli suggested, all experiences are learning experiences, even when it seems they aren’t. That’s why so many are called to return again and again to lower spheres of existence. From Elysium’s perspective, a lifetime on earth is just an instant, albeit, I very important instant.

'In the final analysis, time has no meaning or reality, only an impression of what feels like a linear series of events, but not at all reflecting the true nature of reality. As Albert Einstein so beguilingly remarked; the only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once.’

‘But still,’ I said, ‘I find it hard to believe there aren’t better of ways of making gains then being required to be born into a hell hole like earth. Okay, it’s not always like that, but at times it sure feels that way to me.’

‘That’s because,’ said Eli, ‘you are still looking at this from a linear earth plane perspective. In reality, our earth life is much like going on a spiritual retreat for the weekend. Although it’s true, for some it may be experienced more like a spiritual fitness camp, as you say, but others may not wish to come back so much for their own benefit, but that they may return to help others advance on their earthly path. And in this process, they too would refine the quality of their own essence being.’

‘Well that’s most jolly,’ I said, ‘but why didn’t anyone do this for me? There have been lots of times I could have used a little help along the way.’

‘And how do you know someone didn’t in the past,’ Mo said, ‘or won’t in the future? Who knows, perhaps one day a child will come to help you… maybe your child.'

‘Now that’s an intriguing thought!’ I said.

‘More than you know,’ he said, ‘it happens all the time. Every human soul who comes to earth seeks their own unique experiences, often with a soul group of friends or family. Some might have gone on these journeys together several hundred times, especially in the case of old souls.

‘That’s why we can never know the reasons or the circumstances into which certain souls may choose to be born; only that it has to do with their most recent past life experience. On the surface, it may seem unfortunate that anyone should be born into a culture of poverty, ignorance and fear.

'But how do we know that’s not what was chosen before coming to earth, particularly when material riches in the past may have impoverished their souls. Perhaps being born into less advantaged life is what they require to make their big breakthroughs from past karmic blockages where they have remained stuck on their spiritual journey. In any case, none of this is for us to judge.

'Our soul’s most inward conatus[2] concerns itself with whatever is highest and best for it to progress towards more of what we are created to become as conscious beings. And that’s why every soul becomes involved in scripting their future lives on a lower plane of existence such as earth. But, as Robert Burns once stated so eloquently, the best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley.’[3]

'So if everyone already was a soul before coming to earth where our plans gang aft agley,' I said, 'why doesn’t anyone believe in the pre-existence of souls in the western civilization?'

'But surely as a professor of philosophy,' Mo said, 'you must understand what historical events brought about this ignorance.'

'Perhaps I should,' I said, 'but we don’t overly concern ourselves with such matters in philosophy today. Although, I think most of us realize that many or most of our ancient Greek predecessors believed in reincarnation, including Pythagoras, Plotinus and especially Plato with his Myth of Er in The Republic.

'The truth is; much of the world understands what was obvious to the unprejudiced minds in that day. Buddhists and Hindus are two examples of major religions that believe in reincarnation, along with most of the so called civilized world in ancient times with their various expressions of esoteric faith. Even within religions such as Muslim Sufism, Jewish Hasidism and Christian Gnostic and many others.'

'So,' I asked, 'what do you think brought the big shift in the West’s thinking about this: Christianity?' 

'It’s not as simple as that,' Mo said. 'Certainly it was the church that shut down any such speculation on our pre-existence, but not always. In fact, there were still a few enigmatic references that exist in the scriptures even after writers, thinkers and teachers expunged what they didn’t like and interpolating what they did like.

'Realize that these shenanigans occurred hundreds of years after the occurrence of the actual New Testament events. Finally it was decided what writings should form their holy writ, determined shortly after the Nicene Creed at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.’[4]

'I must confess I know little of what’s in the Bible and realize that's reprehensible for a philosopher, but it seems there aren’t many in our department who care about religious literature these days except what they can find to ridicule. So is there anything in the Judeo-Christian scriptures that might give some veiled reference to reincarnation?'

'The most obvious reference to reincarnation it seems to me is a passage in the Gospel of Luke. Of course, many theologians and philosophers will do backflips to mitigate what seems to be said in this passage. I bet you didn’t know even know we even brought a copy of the Bible here for you to read. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to take a look at it sometimes since it has been the basis for western civilization.’

‘I think I know where it is,’ Eli said, as he went to look somewhere in the back of the cabin.’

‘I think you’re right, Mo, I really don’t know that much and should make a concerted effort to learn more. Perhaps you can lend me a copy while I’m here since I’m not sure if I’d read after I return home.’ 

Just then Eli came back with a leather bound copy and handed it to Mo.

‘Here’s a quote you may wish to consider,’ Mo said, after finding a passage he was looking for. ‘It describes a scene where the disciples ask Yeshua about Elijah. Let me paraphrase what these verses say. Why then say the scribes that Elijah must come first? Then Yeshua replies to them: I say to you that Elijah is come already, and they knew him not. Then the disciples understood that he spoke to them of John the Baptist.' (5)

'If this sounds like Yeshua was referring to John the Baptist as Elijah, who had lived on earth several centuries prior, it’s because he was! There’s nothing figurative about what was affirmed, even though most theologians these days would prefer you believe Elijah’s name was being used to symbolically describe John’s mission in the world.

‘So what’s their problem, I asked. ‘Why did the belief in our pre-existence suddenly become so objectionable to Western civilization?

That’s a good question since nowhere in the Christian or Jewish scriptures is reincarnation spoken against. In fact the enigmatic statement, He has chosen us in before the foundation of the world,[6] seems suggestive to be an acknowledgement of our pre-existence.

The fact of the matter much early Christian literature was destroyed that didn’t confirm to what became ossified in the official canon. I don’t think many realized how much was suppressed under the threat of death until the uncovering of buried Gnostic gospels[7] at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945. After almost two millennia, these writing became a huge embarrassment to the Christian church that has done much to ignore or distance itself from its contents and Gnostic teachings such as the pre-existence of souls.[8]

'Okay, but why deny the obvious? Is it just because these are not acceptable to established theological dogmas; I mean, where’s the honesty scholarship in that?

'I’m coming to that Mo said. But first realize what the philosopher/theologian Origen[9] had to say about this in the third century AD.'  

'I’m familiar with the name Origen,' I said, 'but once again must confess not knowing much about him since my knowledge of religious history is wanting.'

'Yes, we certainly must work on that, if you are to be considered a philosopher worth of the name. Just because many of your peers are ignorant about their intellectual roots, doesn’t mean you have to be. Atheism or agnosticism is no excuse except to keep you ignorant. History is history.

'If nothing else; be knowledgeable with how the most formidable minds in history thought, even if you don’t agree with them. To ignore them is sheer intellectual ineptitude and cowardice. By the way, please feel free to pass my sentiments on to your colleagues after you return. No offense intended, even if they may sound a tad pugnacious… but only the guilty. These remarks may not make you many friends, but at least it will raise the bar… if there still is one.'

'I’ll be sure to do that… after I receive tenure, of course, should I remember. But tell me, what did Origen have to say on the matter of the soul’s pre-existence?'

'It was highly significant considering that was regarded as one of the church fathers,[10] and arguably the greatest intellect. St Jerome called him the greatest teacher of the church after the apostles and Gregory of Nyssa referred to him as the prince of Christian learning in the third century.'

‘That’s jolly,’ I said, ‘but what did he have to say?

‘I can give you a specific answer to that,’ Eli said, ‘since I happen to have a book on Origen I recently obtained just for you so you can brush up on your history. Here’s one of his quotes from Contra Celsum: The soul, which is immaterial and invisible in its nature, exists in no material place without having a body suited to the nature of that place; accordingly, it at one time puts off one body, which was necessary before, but which is no longer adequate in its changed state, and exchanges it for a second.

'And here are another few lines on the topic of reincarnation. These are from De Principiis: The soul… has neither beginning nor end… every soul comes into this world strengthened by the victories or weakened by the defeats of its previous life.’

That’s most astonishing!’ I said. ‘How many theologians are even aware of these quotes? If this was Origen, then these statements should be considered extremely important to Western thinkers.’

‘I suspect there aren’t too many out there that are interested,’ Mo said. 'In case you didn’t know, Origen came to be regarded as a bit of a heretic by some in the church establishment many years later, especially among those who considered his theology to be much too Greek for their tastes. Being from Alexandria, his thinking was obviously influence by Greek philosophers such as Plato. Even in his own time he got into trouble with doctrines such the universal salvation of souls.’

‘For most of history,’ Eli said, ‘the church in its various forms has never has like that one. May the competition be damned, quite literally, that way they get to be God’s elect. In fact, the Roman Church took the liberty to raise money by selling Indulgences to would supposedly save your soul from hell. It was quite the scam they had going until Martin Luther called them on that.

'Okay, maybe I’m a bit cynical, but that’s how it looks to me. I don't know, maybe they didn't like the idea of reincarnation because it doesn't do guilt and fear so well, especially when you get to have more kicks at the can. If you blow it in this life... then to hell with you! That's why you need them.  

'In any case, there was a lot of nattering about his theological interpretations over the few hundred years. But it wasn’t until after a few hundred years after Origen’s death, a very powerful leader came along to do whatever he could to put an end to Origen’s intellectual legacy, including the persecute his intellectual followers. In fact it was exactly three hundred years after Origen’s passing that Byzantine Emperor Justinian [11]instigated several official anathemas against his teachings in 553 AD, including all reference to the pre-existence of souls.'[12]

'That's a bit harsh,' I said, 'so why would the Church do that?'

'Actually they didn’t,' Mo said, 'at least not the Roman Church. From what we know, these anathemas never were recognized by the Pope Vigilius. The whole affair was a set up in Constantinople by this powerful and often despotic emperor. Though the anathemas did occur, the Pope refused to attend this Fifth Ecumenical Council even though he was present in the city while being held captive by Justinian.

‘He demanded equal representation but Justinian had other plans. In fact, only seven bishops from the Roman church attended but 165 of Justinian’s bishops were there to vote overwhelming with the Emperor. At that time, Rome was being attacked and was in vastly weakened position. To survive these brutal times, they depended on Justinian’s powerful army to recapture Rome and keep the Goths at bay.’

‘So would you say Origen and his teachings were officially anathematized or not,’ I asked.

‘That’s a good question,’ he said, continuing, ‘since there’s lots of ambiguity to this question among scholars, even to this day. Some say the anathemas were ratified by the next Ecumenical Council while others say they were excluded. But one thing that is for certain is that Pope Vigilius suffered several indignities at the hands of Justinian and almost lost his life. A couple of years after the Council in 554 he passed away after being held in captivity in Constantinople for eight years. As should be obvious, theology was all about politics, especially the theology and politics of the emperor.'

'Wasn’t Justinian the darling who rounded up about 30,000 of his own unarmed civilians during the Nika riots and had them slaughtered in the Hippodrome? I was in docked in Istanbul several times as a sailor and remember hearing something about this massacre.’

‘Indeed he did,’ Eli said, ‘in fact, in just two days. But then I guess it was worth it, at least to him. Not only did he save himself, but he went on to build the spectacular Hagia Sophia. As you know it’s still an architectural wonder in the world. It can’t be argued that Justinian was a daunting conqueror at the time, albeit a megalomaniac both at home and abroad. However, it seems he was something less than a saint or theologian, even though he considered himself both.'[13]

‘Except in his own mind, Justinian could hardly be compared to Origen,’ Mo said, who was possibly the most brilliant of all Christian thinkers.'

‘Actually, too brilliant for his own good,’ Eli said, ‘in seeing past much of the rigidity of the emerging church. I suppose it was just a matter of time until someone would try to have him posthumously condemned. And yet church history sided with Justinian’s raw might rather than Origen’s brilliance understanding of spiritual concerns. But for Catholic Christians, this shouldn’t be a big issue anymore.[14] Besides that, nowhere in the scriptures, Old or New Testament, is the belief in reincarnation spoken for or against, except by whatever inferences one may wish to make either way.’

‘However,’ Mo said, ‘if you should ever tell a churchman in most Christian organizations that you believe in the pre-existence of souls and the reincarnation of souls, and then wonder why you get a smug, condescending look, well, this is why.’

‘You mean it all goes back to Emperor Justinian?’

‘And Athanasius and the religious politics of the time,’ he said, ‘it’s never just one person or event. Even so, most religious antagonists today could never tell you specifically why you and the Dali Lama are wrong about reincarnation. Often they say the Bible and history proves it, even if they don't know either.'

‘Well at least that much I'm aware of,’ I said. ‘Hardly anyone knows why they believe why or what they believe and whatever historical forces were behind the events that led to their beliefs. Obviously, not even a philosopher such as me. In fact, I didn't even know about Emperor Justinian's role in any of this.

'And yet,' Mo said, 'it forever changed history in the West and the implications are everywhere obvious. How can you ignore something like that?'

'But still,' I said, 'I’m sure there are many scholars who would dispute what you just said about Origen and Justinian. But in any case, I believe you and will try to remember to pass this tidbit of information along when I return since I’m sure not many realize any of this. I probably would never have stumbled on any of this on my own, and I’m a professor.’   

‘As we’ve stated before,’ Mo said, ‘we are delighted to help you understand how things are on earth more clearly since old dogmas and entrenched biases often make history murky.'

ENDNOTES


[1] George Gurdjieff, (1872-1949) Russian esoteric philosopher. See Appendix ‘C’ in The Summit

[2] The concept of conatus means to endeavour in Latin. It has been used by philosophers throughout the ages with varying degrees of meaning. Descartes defined it as an active power or tendency of bodies to move, expressing the power of God. Bergson names this principle élan vital, (vital impulse).

[3] Which is to say: The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry. Robert Burns (1759-1796). To a Mouse, (1785)

[4] After Emperor Constantine (AD 306-337) decriminalized Christianity, he convened the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325. However, it wasn’t until AD367 Athanasius’ Festal Letter listed 27 books to comprise the New Testament. In 397 the Council of Carthage established these 27 books as the orthodox New Testament canon.

[5] Matthew 17:10-13 Mo’s quote was from portions of these verses

[6] Ephesians 1:4.  He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world. (KJV)

[7] Officially known as the Chenoboskion Manuscripts

[8] Elaine Pagels, the highly acclaimed scholar from Princeton University has written two highly acclaimed books on the topic: The Gnostic Gospels (1979) and Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of St Thomas (2004) 

[9] Origen (184-253) was born in Alexandria, Egypt.

[10] Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement, Ignatius were among the influential early church fathers but Origen is considered by many scholars to have been the most intellectually formidable.

[11] Justinian I, was the Eastern Roman emperor from AD 527 to 565 and is traditionally referred to as Justinian the Great.

[12] Anathema means accursed. The first of these stated: Whoever says or thinks that human souls pre-existed, i.e., that they had previously been spirits… shall be anathema. The second one stated: If anyone says or thinks that the Lord pre-existed and was united with God the Word before Incarnation and Conception of the Virgin, let him be anathema.

[13] Justinian also took on the title of Saint Justinian the Great in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

[14] In the Catholic Encyclopedia, in Vol. 11, under Origen and the Councils of Constantinople concerning the Fifth Ecumenical Council, it seems to be acknowledged that belief in reincarnation is not an obstacle for Catholic Christians.
 

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The first book of the Elysium's Passage series is expected to be released by April or early May. 

To access all articles posted on this blog the the link is:

https://digitalbloggers.com/articles/elysiumspassage

or www.elysiumspassage.com under MY BLOG

If you wish to read about the series' intriguing How it Came, you may request it under the comment section below or email me at nmeyers@shaw.ca

SUMMARY OF ELYSIUM'S PASSAGE: THE SUMMIT

This the first in a series of five Elysium narrations regarding a young British philosopher named James Phillips who finds himself living in an altered state of reality while still remaining on earth.  

After experiencing a near fatal fall while climbing to the summit of a remote mountain in the Andes, James awakens in a new dimension. He soon encounters two mysterious beings who provide him with a very different perspective on the nature of his existence. Over the next year, before his body recovers from the coma, he is challenged to re-examine his understanding about life’s meaning and purpose far beyond anything he previously believed, or could believe.

An engaging and sometime surreal adventure with intimations of impending romance, the narrative explores the most important questions about life, death, reality and our ultimate destiny. 

The Plains of Elysium (Champs-Élysées) was described by Homer, Hesiod, Virgil and many other poets as the paradisiac afterlife realm reserved for heroes. As the title suggests, this is about a journey through a passage that leads towards Elysium’s exciting realm of existence.

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PENDING PUBLICATIONS IN THE ELYSIUM PASSAGE SERIES

The Summit, will be available for purchase in March or April 2018. With the exception of the last novel, the other three have been written but still require more editing before publication.

The following titles in the Elysium's Passage series are projected to be released as follows: 

THE SUMMIT early 2018

SURREAL ADVENTURES fall 2018 

MYSTICAL ROMANCE spring 2019

HE ELIXIR fall 2019

THE RETURN sometime in 2020

   

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